Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill into law on Wednesday that appropriates $4.4 billion of federal COVID-19 relief funds for Michigan schools.
This supplemental aid comes from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER. $841 million comes from ESSER II funding allocated in December 2020 and the other $3.3 billion comes from ESSER III funding from the American Rescue Plan.
This money is supplemental to the current year budget. It's designed to be spent specifically on COVID-19 relief efforts for schools, like updating ventilation and HVAC systems in school buildings, hiring support staff, and focusing on student mental health and psychological needs of students and staff. The funds will be distributed based on Title I allocations, which means it'll first go to students in districts with the highest need.
Whitmer signed House Bill 4421 into law in Clinton Township. She praised the bipartisan effort it took to get the bill to her desk.
"Our actions today prove that Republicans and Democrats in Lansing can work together to enact budgets that are laser-focused on helping Michigan take full advantage of the unprecedented opportunity we have right now to make transformative investments in our schools that will have positive impacts for generations," Whitmer said.
Brian Gutman is the director of external relations for Education Trust Midwest. He says the money will be welcome in districts, but it will take quality implementation and lots of future planning to make sure the investment is worth it.
"These federal dollars will run out. How do we make the most of this moment, make sure that when we’re spending federal dollars now, they’re on systemic improvements to the greatest extent possible, so that when those dollars are gone, we have something that remains," he says. "We really need to look at this budget, though, as a down payment. It’s incumbent that legislators and community leaders and parents and school leaders are thinking about what happens in two school years, when we don’t have this influx in federal funding."
Whitmer has yet to sign House Bill 4411 into law, which is the $17.1 billion school aid budget for the next fiscal year approved by the Legislature. The proposed budget would guarantee districts $8,700 per pupil, a move designed to close a gap in per-student spending.
Editor's note: Gutman was a guest on Stateside Wednesday.